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The Muse's Tomb


Diego used oils to make a woman he'd never seen. Nevertheless, it was a woman he loved. She turned out to be Romanian, with delicate skin, mischievous rings of ash dusting her eyes, and untouched by moles. Diego was disgusted by moles, so he was relieved to see the woman that appeared upon his easel was without them.

Maria, Diego's wife, noticed the arrival of the painted woman over the course of several weeks. She led with her healthy bosom into their home, for that is what leaked from her husband's brush first. As Maria passed the doorway of Diego's studio the following days, she'd catch a glimpse of a delicate shoulder peeking over Diego's shoulder, a petite chin jutting from the side of Diego's tilted head. Her husband worked tirelessly on his new piece, deaf to any offering of refreshment. His paint brush slashed the canvas, whipped its blank expression until bleeding the strange and exotic woman Diego so craved to see.

This was obvious to Maria. She carried the trayed lemon cakes and teapot to the rear dining room while her husband worked on his newest woman. There she ate alone with all of her past selves, for it was in this sparsely-used room that Diego kept all of his old paintings. A few tilted images of Maria adorned the walls—much too high for Maria to straighten—but most were on the floor, leaning against the wall, only one of the stacked dozens displayed. She sipped her tea and admired the portraits above her: adventurous Maria in her riding uniform, lustful Maria posed beside their fountain, wearing only a couple of convenient shadows, forlorn Maria spilled amidst a bed of lilies below a willow. These early-composed Marias were her only company.

Maria tasted the first lemon cake and realized instantly she'd eat the entire tray—the cook had outdone herself. As she washed it down with a mouthful of tea, she sighed, "Not like I'm going to be a muse anytime soon."

"You're perfect just the way you are, Maria," seduced the girl by the fountain, her porcelain breasts pouring over her supple forearm.

Maria scoffed at her immature optimism. When she was painted near that fountain, she was a smooth and taught newlywed. Diego burned for Maria, and Maria burned for Diego, as well as for their chauffeur spying from the third-floor balcony. The future was as bright as her cheek, but, as she came to learn, she was not too bright back then. One day, some mechanism in the fountain broke and it's been dry ever since.

"You're just a kid," Maria denounced through a block of cake.

"Yes, but I am not," declared the fierce equestrian, square-shouldered in her pristine riding whites. Maria remembered that day. Diego couldn't keep her in one place. He chased her around the stables, begging her to stay still.

"Please, my love, while the sun is high." But she easily ignored his pestering. Yes, the sun was high. And hot. And she cared little to stand still under it, to melt when Bronty was rearing to prance and haul her through the cooling breeze.

The painting took Diego a month, but it got done. Maria didn't hide her disappointment from her husband during the unveiling, and didn't linger to observe his pain, for it was during another sweltering day and there was Bronty to ride.

"More tea?" Maria asked herself, "Why certainly," she responded. Then she addressed the rider: "You don't know what you're talking about either."

"Do you?" the equestrian retorted.

"I do," she sipped, "I've been married 17 years, and you only three. And let me tell you: you don't know what you have. You're selfish." Maria sat back, impressed and satisfied with her cathartic conclusion, and enjoyed her tea as she watched the rider gallop into the mountainous distance. "Too hot for you?" Maria smirked.

"On the contrary," the girl below the willow moaned. "Everything is so cold. All is shade."

"Oh, quit your bellyaching. All around me are bellyachers," said Maria. The piece that spoke was the last one Diego composed of her. It did impress her, what with the intricate willow and all of its depleted branches heavy with sorrow, the delicate lilies below stretching for miles, seemingly surpassing the edges of the canvas—a broad hopeful floor below hovering doom. And grasping desperately, a cloudy Maria, abstract among the vibrant vegetation, melting into the landscape.

They had drunk many bottles of wine that afternoon and even broke into the grappa. The chauffer had to wedge himself between the married couple and their malicious oaths.

"So cruel," the willow girl lamented, "so cold."

The tray held more crumbs than cakes at this point and the teapot's weight was mostly due to its silver design rather than its contents.

"It was windy that day," Maria murmured, almost to herself. "Damp. A rain that never came." During the subsequent silence she could hear the gales she had endured that miserable day. Then the willow girl spoke:

"No point," she slurred, "no love." Lilies and clumps of dirt silently rose and fell around her as she clawed past the flowerbed for the catacombs below.

"There is no point," Maria echoed.

For weeks after, Maria passed Diego's studio without a word. He'd developed a hunch from his constant labors, for around him, hung high on red velvet walls, were fresh women: from Romania, from Germany, from the country club; next to poodles, next to thrones, next to himself. Maria felt the tray of cakes and tea grow heavier as she watched her husband thrashing in the glow of the fireplace. She floated with heavy feet down the shadowed corridor, entered the room of forgotten art, and ate with the echoes.